A public inquiry into Peel Holdings' proposed `Salford Forest Park scheme, which includes a huge racecourse, hotel, golf course and `eco park' has begun at Monton House Hotel.
On one side is Peel Holdings, using all its power and money to try to push through the project. On the other is RAGE (Residents Against Greenbelt Erosion) and Salford City Council, which has opposed the plans.
Brian Ash, QC, representing Peel, said: "The opportunity presented by the Salford Forest Park proposal should be enthusiastically welcomed…There is no tenable planning objection raised by the authorities, other than inappropriate use of the green belt…The importance attached to the protection of the green belt is undeniable, but in this case the very special circumstances clearly outweigh any harm in this respect.
"There will be little material harm to the openness of the green belt, no harm to its visual amenity and no adverse impact on any of the green belts' purposes."
Hmmm. Would anyone trust Peel Holdings on this? In spring 2007 we secretly photographed peat being extracted from Astley Moss East, a Peel Holdings owned site. Salford Council, which was supposed to be monitoring the site was totally unaware that it was happening.
Salford's mosslands are of world importance, containing raised bogs which act as massive carbon sinks and take thousands of years to form. Since 1984 the bogs at Astley Moss East have been bled dry and exploited for the peat which lies underneath these bogs.
In July 2004 Salford Council recommended that enforcement action be taken against Peel Holdings for ` clear breaches of planning permission' that are `seriously undermining the new policies relating to the Mosslands Heartlands'.
That enforcement action never happened. Instead the council passed planning permission in December 2004 giving Peel Holdings planning permission to extract not only 50,000 cubic metres of peat every year for 13 years, but also to extract almost 3 million tonnes of sand and gravel, which lies underneath the peat for 18 years. It left local ecologists gobsmacked. The economics (or very special circumstances) outweighed the value of the green belt.
Now Peel Holdings are coming back with the racecourse proposal, saying "the protection of the green belt is undeniable, but in this case the very special circumstances clearly outweigh any harm in this respect".
We know all about Peel Holdings `very special circumstances'. Read our story and decide if you can trust the multi billion pound corporation with our precious green belt…